What does it mean to upload your icons and illustrations to Iconfinder, legally?
When you upload your work to Iconfinder, you keep the copyright and ownership over them. On Iconfinder, you make the icons available for customers to license them, which means, you give customers the right to use the items under certain conditions established by a license agreement.
Nor Iconfinder nor the customers obtain the copyright nor the ownership of the items. These rights over the items remain yours, as you are their creator.
Copyright is an intellectual property right which you gain for an original creative work. The moment your creative work becomes original, you automatically get the copyright over it and it becomes protected by copyright law. Copyright is gained automatically and you do not need to register it at any public office or registry. It is important, thus, that you are able to prove that your items are original and, therefore, protected by copyright.
For content to be original, it means that it has to be different enough from other existing content. At the specific point during the creative process when the item becomes different enough from other existing items, and therefore original, it becomes protected by copyright.
Practically speaking, copyright means that you own full rights over your items and you can prevent other people from using them.
Conflicts on copyright matters
Copyright law can be, to a certain extent, subjective. It is difficult to judge whether an item is 'original' and if it is 'different enough' from other already-existing items. And even if copyright is gained automatically and does not need to be registered, there can be copyright conflicts and infringement cases.
To protect yourself and your work, it is recommended that you keep proof that you have made the items yourself and that you have not copied it from other designers. Proof can be different artefacts of your creative process: documenting parts of the process of creating the item, keeping the original files together with the dates of their creation, keeping works-in-progress together with their creation dates, posts to social media featuring the items and the posts' date etc. You can also email the items to yourself, for having a proof of the time of their creation.
All content on Iconfinder is licensed. You, as the artwork's designer, are the licensor and your customers are the licensees. Items are shared with customers under the conditions established in the license agreement. This means that you give the licensees the right to use the items under the conditions established in the license agreement. Practically speaking, you decide how your items are going to be used. You have the right to prevent the licensees from using your content in case they are not abiding by the terms established in the license agreement.
All Premium content on Iconfinder is licensed under the Basic License.
Free content can be protected by different licenses - that is up to you to choose. Some examples of other license agreements can be Creative Commons licenses, Free for commercial use, Free for personal use, among others.
Check out this table that summarises most license agreements available on Iconfinder: License overview table and what rights the licensees get in each case.
More about the Basic License
When a customer licenses a Premium content under the Basic License, he or she gets the right to use the content under certain conditions. The customers get the right to use the content for commercial use and the right to modify the icon (Note: commercial use refers to income-generating activities of any kind). The customer cannot distribute the content (which means sharing it with other people in any way) and the customer cannot use it as a logo. Additionally, no attribution is required in the case of the Basic license.
Who owns the content?
You, as the designer, keep the ownership of the content at all times. This means that, when you upload items to Iconfinder, you do not give the ownership to Iconfinder and neither to the customers on our platform.
Often times, we employ terms such as "Buy item" or "Sell items", which are easy to understand for everyone. However, these do not mean a transfer of ownership of the items when these are "bought" or "sold" on Iconfinder. You are the owner of the items unless you decide to give up the ownership (through an explicit written agreement). Content is merely licensed.
If you wish to transfer the ownership of your items to another person, you can do so with a special agreement with the other person. If you decide to do that, the content ceases to belong to you and you lose the copyright as well. Iconfinder does not play any part in these kind of agreements and they must be made between you and the buyer.
Still having doubts?
Find more information on basic copyright law for graphic designers.
If you are a customer, check out the article Who owns the icons and illustrations on Iconfinder.